June 2017

'We could not be prouder of our English spirit and celebrate it too'

A Taj Group veteran of 23 years, Digvijay Singh has been general manager of the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites & Residences and St James’ Court, both Taj Hotels located in London, since February 2012. In his current role, he has been instrumental in developing the two properties to become bywords for impeccable service, memorable experiences and attention to detail — most notably by opening the Kona restaurant in 2015 and extensively renovating the Kings Townhouses. Taj 51 Buckingham Gate was voted No9 among all hotels in the UK in the 2017 Trip Advisors Traveler’s Choice awards.

In this interview to tata.com, Mr Singh speaks about the challenges the iconic properties face in terms of remaining at the forefront of modern hospitality, meeting expectations of discerning travellers, and blending Indian hospitality with local culture.

Both of the Taj London hotels are set in historic and classic buildings. How do you ensure that they remain at the forefront of modern hospitality? 
Our buildings are steeped in history, dating back to Tudor England and the court of Queen Elizabeth I. They are the masterpieces of an English gentleman and Royal engineer, Major Charles Pawley, who designed them to be exclusive, and exclusive they have remained.

Situated just a few minutes from Buckingham Palace, the Royal Court of St James, Downing Street, Whitehall, the Home Office and the Foreign Office, the properties soon secured patronage with the highest in the land. Major Pawley was able to create a pied-a-terre in the heart of London that was fashionably smart, exclusive, quiet and a home away from home for many of London’s key figures.

Today, it is imperative that we remain at the forefront of modern hospitality. We achieve it not only with the most modern technology in the rooms and public areas, including free Wi-Fi and access to news and information on television screens, but also by exceeding expectations of today’s traveller. Our hotels are perfect examples of the past served up on a contemporary platter.

The hotels exceed the expectations of today’s discerning traveller and have a high number of loyal repeat guests. In your opinion, what is it about the hotels that see your guests return time and time again? 
It's simple. It's the concept called 'Tajness' which is instilled into the DNA of all our employees through extensive training and management; this means that we are able to offer guests a unique experience during their stay with us. Our service is tailor-made to customer needs, with our acclaimed butler service and Golden Keys concierges attending to guests' personal requirements and ensuring bespoke experiences. Our staff genuinely care about our guests, whether they are staying for the first time or the 100th time.

What has the response been to Kona’s southern European cuisine since its opening in 2015? How has it supplemented the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate offerings? 
Kona is a perfect match for London and the eclectic mixture of different cuisines that are on offer across the city. As a modern and forward-thinking restaurant, Kona denotes comfort and cosiness whilst also being exotic, personal and hip. It celebrates the provenance and proximity of the cuisine sources.

The response to it has been incredibly receptive, as the style of cuisine offers an interpretation of the colours, flavours and vibrancy of Western Europe with tasting portions that allow the flexibility to try different meats, cooking styles and flavours. The ingredients are fresh, and from predominantly sustainable produce. The menu marries traditional cooking techniques with contemporary styling, unpretentious yet elegant — served in a luxurious environment with a homely, welcoming warmth.

The hotels are situated in a very classic English location. How do they embody traditional Indian hospitality whilst remaining sensitive to their environment? 
For more than a century, Taj has welcomed guests with signature warmth, a practice of perfection, a culture of generosity and a clear sense of true Indian hospitality. Tajness seeks its inspiration from the nobility of Indian heritage and blends it with local cultures to deliver an unparalleled experience of sincere care at its 100 hotels around the world. These qualities marry very well with the traditional English location, and whilst we hold our Indian roots dear to us, we also could not be prouder of our English spirit and celebrate it too.

In the last few years, we have been delighted to launch our literary series ‘English Classics, Reinvented’, which gives literary classics a new lease of life by partnering with contemporary British artists to create a selection of limited edition covers for UK's best-loved tales. The latest being Sherlock Holmes, which was launched in April this year.

Despite the fact that Punjabi cuisine has become synonymous with Indian cuisine in the UK and other parts of the world, Quilon is very popular for its South-west coastal Indian cuisine and has even won Michelin stars. How was this achieved? 
Quilon very quickly established South-west coastal Indian cuisine on the international food-lovers’ map, winning a Michelin star in 2008 which has been retained ever since. This star was earned deservedly through deep respect for the region’s ingredients and a unique art of blending ethnic and progressive dishes with seafood at its heart, and also offering meat, poultry and vegetarian dishes, mostly designed for sharing. Quilon is favoured by London VIPs looking for the very best in forward-thinking Indian cuisine. The South-west coastal Indian cuisine brings together the cuisines of Goa and Kerala with an exquisite range of contemporary and healthy dishes that are created with flair, style and elegance.

How has your previous experience in the hospitality industry benefited you during your time at the Taj hotels? What have you brought to the table??
I have had a wonderful and varied career in hospitality, spanning over 23 years, often challenging but always rewarding. I have been General Manager of The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, and a super luxury 5 star hotel, which is a flagship property of the Taj Group.

One of my greatest achievements has been to serve as the General Manager of Taj Lake Palace, an iconic grand palace, and turn around its fortunes with great attention to detail, impeccable service and memorable experiences. The Palace won recognition from Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast, Trip Advisor Viewers’ Choice, Gallivanter’s Guide, and the Gostelow and Robb Reports.

Over the years, I have travelled to renowned international trade exhibitions and trained at some of the most reputed hotels across the globe, such as the Leading Hotels of the World convention in Tokyo, World Travel Market London, ITB Berlin, Food & Hotel Asia - Singapore, The Oriental - Bangkok, The Peninsula - Hong Kong, The Raffles - Singapore, The Fullerton - Singapore, The Four Seasons - Hong Kong. 

It is an honour and delight to be the General Manager of the Taj properties in London. It surely is one of the most fantastic cities in the world.

You cater to a variety of clientele, from business travellers to families. With such a variety, how do you ensure each guest receives the optimum Taj experience? 
We ensure that each guest receives the optimum Taj experience through our array of facilities: a variety of bedrooms and suites across the two hotels, three restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Quilon, two bars, a state-of-the-art gym and wellness centre; an international Kids@taj programme, which means our younger travellers will be greeted by name and receive special Kids@Taj amenities and goodies; and modern technology balanced perfectly with a nod to our Indian heritage and traditional English values.

Whether it is a business trip, honeymoon, summer vacation or city weekend stay, our London properties cater to all types of trips and provide discerning guests with an experience that will make their stay in London special.